Are U.S., Canada still crushing world of women’s hockey?

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SOCHI, Russia — Don’t let the final score fool you. This was not a particularly close game. The United States beat Finland, 3-1, Saturday in the first women’s hockey game of the Olympics, but for the really telling stat, one must consider the shots: 43 for the Americans, only 15 for the Finns.

Fifty-three seconds is all it took for U.S. forward Hilary Knight to open the scoring at Shayba Arena, capitalizing on a giveaway to beat the Finns’ superb (and busy) goalie, Noora Raty.

“Obviously, to have an opportunity to score in the first minute of the game sets the tone,” said U.S. coach Katey Stone.

The Americans dominated after Knight’s goal. The score was 3-0 by the end of the second period, with the shots 33-7. The Finns managed a power-play goal late in the third to spoil Jessie Vetter’s shutout bid, but the outcome was all but official by then.

Stone, though, was eager to give her opponent credit.

“They played very well in front of Noora Raty,” she said. “It’s not just about the goaltending. It’s about how well that their team plays in front of her. They made it very difficult for us.”

Stone was also sure to express her belief that the women’s Olympic tournament is a “world event that anyone can win.”

WATCH: How impressive was U.S. victory?

Finland is the third-ranked team in the world, by the way. The U.S. is first, Canada, a 5-0 winners vs. Switzerland on Saturday, is second.

And the competitiveness of the women’s tournament is, of course, a sensitive topic. In 2010, the U.S. and Canada so badly dominated the rest of the teams that then-IOC president Jacques Rogge threatened its place in the Olympics.

“There is a discrepancy there. Everyone agrees with that,” he said. “We cannot continue without improvement.”

Hence, sensitivities to suggestions there hasn’t been enough “improvement” in the “discrepancy” department.

This year’s tournament even has a new, unique format to reduce the number of blowouts – like Canada over Slovakia 18-0, or the United States defeating Russia 13-0 – that occurred in Vancouver.

In Sochi, there’s an A group with the top four seeds (U.S., Canada, Finland, Switzerland) and a B group with seeds 5-8 (Sweden, Japan, Russia, Germany). For the preliminary round, all the teams in the A group will play each other, and all the teams in the B group will play each other. After that, the top two in the A group will get a bye to the semifinals, while the bottom two in the A group and the top two in the B group will meet in the quarters.

WATCH: Highlights from 3-1 U.S. victory

It’s extremely unlikely, but theoretically, a team in the A group could lose all three of its preliminary round games and still win the gold medal.

That isn’t how most tournaments work.

U.S. forward Amanda Kessel said Saturday that she doesn’t worry about it.

“I just see all the other teams getting better every year,” she said, “and I think our rivalry with Canada, that just makes people want to watch more.”

U.S. captain Meghan Duggan struck a similar tone.

“To be honest, the media makes it a bigger deal than we do in our locker room,” she said.

But Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser, arguably the greatest women’s hockey player ever, isn’t quite so carefree.

“I think I always worry about the future of women’s hockey, mainly because of the fact that most of the world pays attention to the game only two weeks out of every four years,” Wickenheiser said earlier this week, according to the Globe and Mail. “The tournament has to be competitive, there’s no question, and countries have to show progress. That’s the number one thing.”

Progress, though, is a tough thing to measure, because it’s not like the top two countries are standing still.

“The problem is that Canada and the U.S. continue to improve and it’s harder for the other countries to catch up. So that’s a dilemma that women’s hockey is always going to face,” Wickenheiser said.

“I think the game has really come a long way in the [four] Olympics that we’ve seen.”

The U.S. plays Switzerland Monday before closing out the preliminary round Wednesday versus Canada.

Simone Manuel upsets world-record holder again for gold (video)

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Simone Manuel pulled off another upset for gold.

The Olympic 100m free co-gold medalist won the world 100m freestyle title by stunning world-record holder Sarah Sjöström in an American record 52.27 seconds in Budapest on Friday.

The Swede Sjöström took silver in 52.31, followed by Denmark’s Pernille Blume in 52.69. American Mallory Comerford was fourth.

Sjöström was a heavy favorite going into the final, given she clocked 51.71 leading off the 4x100m free relay Sunday, taking .35 off the world record. Sjöström was .08 faster than her world-record pace at the 50-meter mark, but Manuel passed her in the last 10 meters and lowered her personal best by .42.

One year ago, Manuel and Canadian Penny Oleksiak were surprise Rio 100m free co-champions, topping then-world-record holder Cate Campbell of Australia. Campbell skipped worlds.

Manuel became the first U.S. woman to win the world 100m free title since Jenny Thompson in 1998.

She also took back the American record from Comerford, the 19-year-old who lowered it leading off the 4x100m free relay Sunday.

Women’s 100m Freestyle Results
Gold: Simone Manuel (USA) — 52.27
Silver: Sarah Sjöström (SWE) — 52.31
Bronze: Pernille Blume (DEN) — 52.69
4. Mallory Comerford (USA) — 52.77
5. Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED) — 52.78
6. Penny Oleksiak (CAN) — 52.94
7. Bronte Campbell (AUS) — 53.18
8. Emma McKeon (AUS) — 53.21

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Yulia Efimova beats Lilly King at worlds; Simone Manuel pulls upset

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Yulia Efimova and Lilly King are even with one round to go.

The Russian took the latest episode of the Cold War swim rivalry, winning her trademark 200m breaststroke at the world championships in Budapest on Friday.

Earlier, American Simone Manuel won the 100m free in an upset, but Efimova was the clear favorite in the 200m breast. The Russian entered worlds with the top time in the world this year by two seconds.

Efimova passed King, four lanes to her right, with less than 100 meters to go and clocked 2:19.64. American Bethany Galat earned silver. King was fourth.

In four career head-to-head events in Rio and Budapest, King won both 100m breast duels, while Efimova finished higher in both 200m breast events.

King and Efimova are both entered in the 50m breast, with the final on Sunday and King the favorite. The 50m breast is not contested at the Olympics.

The women’s 100m free was much closer than the 200m breast on Friday. Manuel stunned world-record holder Sarah Sjöström in an American record 52.27 seconds.

The Swede Sjöström took silver in 52.31, followed by Denmark’s Pernille Blume in 52.69. American Mallory Comerford was fourth.

Sjöström was a heavy favorite going into the final, given she clocked 51.71 leading off the 4x100m free relay Sunday, taking .35 off the world record. Sjöström was .08 faster than her world-record pace at the 50-meter mark, but Manuel passed her in the last 10 meters.

One year ago, Manuel and Canadian Penny Oleksiak were surprise Olympic 100m free co-champions, topping then-world-record holder Cate Campbell of Australia. Campbell skipped worlds.

Manuel became the first U.S. woman to win the world 100m free title since Jenny Thompson in 1998.

The U.S. also grabbed silver and bronze medals in the men’s 200m backstroke.

Russian Yevgeny Rylov won in 1:53.61, with Olympic champion Ryan Murphy nearly chasing him down in the last 50 meters. Murphy ended up six tenths back, followed by countryman Jacob Pebley.

In semifinals, Caeleb Dressel broke the American record in the 50m freestyle to lead the qualifiers into Saturday’s final.

Australian Emily Seebohm was the fastest qualifier into the women’s 200m back final Saturday. Seebohm, the 2015 World champion, is joined by 100m back world-record holder Kylie Masse and silver medalist Kathleen Baker, plus Hungarian superstar Katinka Hosszu and 15-year-old American Regan Smith.

Women’s 100m Freestyle Results
Gold: Simone Manuel (USA) — 52.27
Silver: Sarah Sjöström (SWE) — 52.31
Bronze: Pernille Blume (DEN) — 52.69
4. Mallory Comerford (USA) — 52.77
5. Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED) — 52.78
6. Penny Oleksiak (CAN) — 52.94
7. Bronte Campbell (AUS) — 53.18
8. Emma McKeon (AUS) — 53.21

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WORLDS: TV Schedule | Schedule/Results | Race Videos